For those who follow high school tennis, the words "Smoky Valley" generally conjure images of one of the toughest tournaments aside from the state championship. It's a well-deserved reputation.
With the 10-team meet hosting the likes of Buhler, Colby, Wichita Collegiate, Wichita Independent, Marysville, Smoky Valley, and Topeka Hayden, the Greenbacks are usually satisfied to win a few matches and walk away with anything close to 7th place. Not this year. Not with this group of Greenbacks.
As the smoke cleared, the Pratt girls found themselves in clear possession of 3rd place, just six points out of second.Buhler took top honors with 74 points, followed by Marysville (67), Pratt (61), Independent (52), Collegiate (44), Smoky Valley Black (42), Topeka Hayden (40), a combination team of Hayden, Colby, and Marysville dubbed TCM (27), Colby (20), and Smoky Valley Orange (15).
"This is two tournaments out of the last three where the girls have exceeded any Pratt finish I've been a part of," said head coach Larry Kahmeyer.
"When they play well, they can compete with almost anybody out there and they've been proving it. There are some good teams here – Collegiate and Hayden are both ranked in the top five teams in state, so it's good to see how you stack up against that kind of competition."
Junior Adele Loomis , playing #1 singles, continued to navigate her way through a very tough field of talented players. Going 2-2 in pool play with victories over Colby (6-1) and Smoky Valley Orange (6-0) and losses to Smoky Valley's Van Ranken (3-6) and Schwarz from Marysville (0-6), Loomis found herself vying for the fifth place medal in the final cross-over matches against Independent's Nagireddy.
Up 4-1, Loomis saw Nagireddy switch to a defensive lob, keep-the-ball-in-play game and the move proved successful as Loomis' lead slipped away to an eventual 4-6 loss.
"Adele played some great tennis today. She played Van Rankin well, getting three games off of a solid state-level player. I know she was crushed by her loss in the last match. She plays her best tennis off of hard hitters, but I know Adele and I'm sure she'll find an answer to that kind of game," said Kahmeyer.
Lauren McClain and Dani Williams, again playing at the #1 doubles spot, put together their best day of the season, going 4-1 to pocket the 3rd place medal. After salting away Marysville (6-0), the girls had an one and half hour layoff before playing the best team in the tournament – Hayden's Myers and Pelter.
The Pratt pair couldn't shake the rust off from the long break and fell 1-6. Following up the loss, the girls rebounded to take Smoky Valley Black (6-1), and Smoky Valley Orange (6-0).
Playing for 3rd place, McClain and Williams had to face another very strong team from Hayden. Jumping off to a great start, the girls worked to a 6-1 lead. Hayden managed a few games until, at 7-4, Hayden double-faulted on match point, handing the victory to Pratt.
Page 2 of 2 - "This was a stellar day for Lauren and Dani. They played like I know they can – consistent and aggressive. They didn't just play matches – they seized control and took them. The only disappointment was the quick loss to Hayden's #1 team and part of that was the very long break. It was over before the girls knew it and I would like for them to have that one over. They shook that loss off and came roaring back. Their final match was a good win over a strong team," said Kahmeyer.
Jade Hoover, in only her fifth varsity tournament, put together Pratt's best run and went 5-0 to claim the top medal in #2 singles.
In pool-play, Hoover trounced Smoky Valley Black (6-1), Smoky Valley Orange (6-0), Independent (6-1), and Marysville (6-1) to find herself in the championship match against Collegiate's Kara Maloney.
Down 0-3 in the final match, Hoover went from an aggressive style where she was making some unforced errors trying to win points outright to a more consistent rallying game.
The change worked beautifully as Hoover turned the match around only giving up one more game en-route to a 8-4 win and 1st place medal.
"Jade was amazing again," Kahmeyer reflected. "She has such a great competitive heart. Most players would be satisfied to make it to the finals and down 0-3 it's easy to just finish the day and call it good. Jade finds a way to win. She can change her game to match the conditions and that's fairly rare in a young player."
"She even played through a sprained wrist,injured in a mid-match fall, "Kaymeyer continued. "She taped it up and kept right on playing. The kid's 18-0 now. That's an incredible record against some strong competition!"
Rounding out the Greenback day was the #2 doubles team of Allicia Hall and Elee Hampton, also in their fifth varsity action. Going 2-2 in pool-play with wins against Smoky Valley Orange (6-4) and Hayden (6-2), and losses to Buhler (4-6) and Independent (3-6), the girls were up against Smoky Valley Black in the finals for 5th place.
After exchanging a few games, the Pratt duo pulled away to take a 6-2 win to pocket the hardware.
"Allicia and Elee showed some great courage today," said Kahmeyer. "It's easy to be intimidated at this tournament and they didn't flinch. Even in their losses, they played well and only gave up a handful of games. I was really proud of them - they walked away with a 3-2 record, 5th place, and a medal. That's a successful day."